Ughhh… “Influencer”. I swear every time I hear that word, I die a little inside. The word is pretty new, after all, and I’ve been doing this blogging lark for more than 8 years. I never got into it to make money and while the blog has grown and yes, opportunities for making money have come my way, the raison d’être for its existence has never been to MAKE people buy things they don’t need or want.
And perhaps I’m being totally naive here. I’m still somehow hanging on to the idea that people read or follow Swoon Worthy to be inspired and to learn about decorating their home – whether they have a huge budget or just a small one. It’s not about pushing products down people’s throats and forcing them to part with their hard-earned cash – it’s an invitation to be a part of one person’s journey.
If you fancy going back 5 or 8 years into my blog, there weren’t fancy pictures, I had no freaking idea what I was doing when it came to interior design. I was learning and sharing my successes and my failures with whoever fancied reading. Of course, with all that practice, I’ve learned a lot about design. But it was and still remains a journey for me. I’m still learning, I’m still teaching, I’m still sharing. It’s still about growth.
As much as I enjoy Instagram, I do have a feeling that this is where the whole ‘Influencer’ thing got its start. I can’t help but think of mid-century iconic photographer Slim Aarons who said he only wanted to shoot “attractive people doing attractive things in attractive places.” And now, well, that’s what everyone wants to see on Instagram, isn’t it? And so those that were able to create this holy trinity of beauty and aspiration shot into the limelight, sometimes amassing hundreds of thousands of followers in a relatively short time. And where followers go, brands will follow, throwing marketing budget around and creating words like “influencer” which makes all the people out there creating awesome content on all sorts of different platforms in all sorts of different ways to recoil in horror at the term.
So what happened next? Many relatively inexperienced “influencers” were suddenly being promised wads of cash to shill any old thing, whether they like the product or used it before or not. Washing Powder? Sure thing. A bar of chocolate? Of course. An appetite-suppressing lollipop? How much are you paying me? Oh, well in that case, absolutely. A 4 day holiday to Bali? Hell yeah. (Okay, full disclosure, I’d probably be tempted by Bali too – wouldn’t you?)
But this inexperience and sudden ‘fame’ leads to problems. As someone who has been in this blogging game for a long time (I know, I’m old, alright?!), I’ve had plenty of time to grow into brand collaborations and learn from that experience. It’s taken me years to build my audience and so in that time, I figured out what worked and what didn’t – what I was comfortable doing and what I definitely wasn’t. I’m thankful that I was given that chance before I had a large following anywhere, before the scrutiny and before we had this bright shining light on content marketing that we see today – and that’s not because I was doing anything intrinsically ‘wrong’ – I was just inexperienced. The PRs and Brands and bloggers and YouTubers – we were all kind of figuring it out together to be honest.
I remember the very first time I was approached by a brand. It must have been about 7 years ago and it was for a spray-on carpet cleaner. They sent it to me for FREE (OMG!!!!) (of course, I wasn’t paid anything). I was so blown away that I didn’t even have to go out and BUY the carpet cleaner, I joyfully promised them a blog post. It took me probably 5 hours to shoot and write that post all for a £3 bottle of cleaner, trying to get my cats in the pictures (it didn’t work) and trying to figure out how to get a ‘nice’ picture of a stained carpet (you can’t). I hated doing the post. And then I felt stupid and embarrassed that I was using my blog to sell carpet cleaner. It was such a huge mistake I swore I’d never do that again. Lesson learned. (And no, you won’t find the blog post in my archives, I deleted it long ago – it was terrible.)
The thing is, over the years that followed, I learned how to work with PRs and Brand Managers, developing relationships, ensuring that whatever collaborations I took on were right for me and for my blog, all the while as my audience grew and the promises of bigger or more expensive collaborations came my way, I was still always aware that I wanted to remain true to my original goal – to inspire, to teach, to share my journey. Any money I made from these simply assisted me monetarily to do that better.
I paid attention as over the last few years, laws were introduced to ensure it was clear to my audience when something was paid or gifted or sponsored and did my best to make sure I was following the rules as best as I could. As I said in this post – if content creators are confused by the laws, then what hope does a casual reader or follower have to understand it all? Apparently, the CMA is looking to crack down on those who aren’t following the rules, making it easier for people to understand the difference between someone talking about a product they bought themselves versus someone just talking about it because they’ve been paid to do so. And honestly, I totally welcome that. Clarity can only be a great thing for everyone involved.
Today, I probably accept about 2% of the collaborations I’m approached to do. I have always been that picky. Sure, I could have made heaps more money over the years but at what cost to my dignity? And who’s to say that any audience I did have wouldn’t have left me long ago if I was just after the money and didn’t do it because I actually love it?
And I think this is the big difference between someone who identifies as a blogger as opposed to someone who identifies as an ‘Instagrammer’ – or worse, an ‘Influencer’. It takes years to build up a blog audience to the point where money starts to become a part of it (SEO is hard and it often takes years to build a decent following!) but it may only take months to build a big following on Instagram. That lack of experience results in many Instagrammers not quite knowing how to work with brands or how important disclosure really is. It leads to massive f**k ups and audience deception, throwing all of us that have been lumped under the word “influencer” into one big murky grey water.
Of course, there are always plenty of exceptions to my rant. I’ve seen my share of bloggers who still don’t disclose or have only created blogs to maximise on ‘free stuff’ and many Instagrammers who are doing an amazing job creating gorgeous, generous and honest content. So this certainly isn’t a blogger vs Instagrammer rant – not at all. Only that I think that quick rise to ‘fame’ can sometimes be detrimental simply through lack of experience and professionalism or perhaps even willful ignorance. Trying to group everyone from a hobby blogger with a genuinely loyal audience to a former ‘star’ of Love Island into the same category as ‘Influencer’ is absurd.
And ya know, I’m sorry but just because you have 20k followers on Instagram and you are throwing out discount codes like confetti based on your pretty face, doesn’t make you a content creator. If you have stooped down so low as to buy your followers and buy your likes, you are not a content creator. If you are not actually contributing anything of value aside from the perfect shot of you sitting outside of Peggy Porschen, you might be a marketer’s dream, but you certainly aren’t anything more than that. As Jason Goldberg so eloquently put it, influencers take, creators give.
Would a film director be called a ‘ticket sheller’? An athlete be called a ‘sponsor face’? No, of course not. So why am I essentially being packaged up as someone who simply ‘influences’ other people to buy shit? I like to think that I do a lot more than that. I much prefer the term ‘content creator’ but hey, if you want to keep it simple, ‘blogger’ is actually just fine.